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Image: Donald Trump

GOP lawmaker: voting against Trump's wishes comparable to adultery

04/05/18 09:20AM

The Republicans' Senate primary in Indiana is one of the most contentious in the country this year, but Rep. Todd Rokita (R) believes he knows how to win the GOP nomination: by celebrating his unyielding support for Donald Trump.

In his new television ad, the Indiana congressman literally puts on a red "Make America Great Again" cap and vows to "proudly stand with" the president -- more than his primary rivals.

About a thousand miles to the west, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), who's taking on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), went a little further, telling a conservative radio host this week that he sees voting against Trump's wishes as being comparable to adultery. CNN reported yesterday:

"Here's the good news about Donald Trump: Most of the time, he's for North Dakota, and that's my point where I've heard her say, 'Gee, I voted with him 55% of the time,'" Cramer said.

"Can you imagine going home and telling your wife, 'I've been faithful to you 55% of the time'?"

The GOP lawmaker has occasionally made some strange comments -- Cramer had some curious criticisms of women's clothing last year, for example -- but this week's quote was a doozy.

It does, however, reflect an increasingly common view in Republican politics: Trump may be unpopular; he may be plagued by scandal; his White House may be flailing; he may be the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation; and his administration may be burdened by widespread corruption allegations; but ambitious GOP politicians believe the key to their success is to cozy up to the president in the most sycophantic ways possible.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

McConnell points to 'the most consequential decision' of his career

04/05/18 08:40AM

Exactly one year ago this week, Senate Republicans changed the chamber's rules, executed the so-called "nuclear option" to prohibit filibusters of Supreme Court nominees, and confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the high court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters shortly before the confirmation vote, "As I look back on my career, I think the most consequential decision I've ever been involved in was the decision to let the president being elected last year pick the Supreme Court nominee."

A year later, his opinion has not changed.

McConnell said once again that the most important accomplishment, in his mind, of Donald Trump's administration so far has been the number of conservative judicial appointments the president has gotten through.

"I believe that's the most important thing we're doing," the majority leader said. "You've heard me say before that I thought the decision I made not to fill the Supreme Court vacancy when Justice Scalia died was the most consequential decision I've made in my entire public career. The things that will last the longest time -- those are my top priorities."

To be sure, McConnell's assessment is factually correct. I've long believed the most serious consequences of the Trump era are the ones that aren't easily changed. Health care benefits can be restored, alliances can be rebuilt, and tax breaks can be scrapped, but on issues like the climate and the courts, the effects of Republican governance will be felt by millions of people for generations.

In fact, I'm glad, in a way, that the Senate GOP leader appreciates the scope of his actions. After all, McConnell did something few Americans in history can credibly claim: he stole a Supreme Court seat and got away with it.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

White House hedges on key Trump economic policy

04/05/18 08:00AM

When it comes to Donald Trump's trade tariffs, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is one of the administration's most enthusiastic advocates. He may, however, need to work on his presentation.

On CNBC yesterday, Ross reflected on $50 billion in Chinese retaliatory tariffs, which rattled both investors and a whole lot of American farmers. The cabinet secretary, however, shrugged off Beijing's move, saying $50 billion in tariffs is "hardly a life-threatening activity.”

As policy defenses go, arguing that Trump's burgeoning trade war won't literally kill anyone isn't exactly a great sales pitch.

Even more surprising, however, was the White House's not-so-subtle suggestion that Trump's policies might not take effect.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow stressed U.S. tariffs announced on Chinese goods are still only proposals that might never take effect as the Trump administration sought to tamp down fears of a trade war.

"None of the tariffs have been put in place yet, these are all proposals," Kudlow said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News. "We're putting it out for comment. There's at least two months before any actions are taken."

The president's top economics adviser also emphasized to Fox Business yesterday, "Nothing concrete has actually happened. These are proposals."

At yesterday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether the president intends to follow through and impose the tariffs he's been talking up for the last month. She hedged, saying, "Look, we’re going through the review period."

Asked again if the tariffs will take effect, Sanders replied, "I’m not to get ahead of the process of where we are." Asked once more, the president's spokesperson wouldn't commit to a specific course.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.4.18

04/04/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'll have more on this tomorrow: "The Trump administration began outlining a plan Wednesday to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to fight illegal immigration, but will likely not allow the troops to have physical contact with immigrants, according to three administration officials."

* That's a lot of people: "Facebook announced on Wednesday that user data for as many as 87 million people may have been 'improperly shared' with Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm that worked with President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign."

* I have a hunch this won't help the dispute: "Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Tuesday said that the teachers currently protesting for increases in school funding were like 'a teenage kid that wants a better car.'"

* A name to remember: "Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has picked a veteran prosecutor to help him oversee the Russia probe at the Justice Department as the Special Counsel's investigation deepens. Ed O'Callaghan will serve as the acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, according to a Justice Department official."

* Related news: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has taken the unusual step of questioning Russian oligarchs who traveled into the US, stopping at least one and searching his electronic devices when his private jet landed at a New York area airport, according to multiple sources familiar with the inquiry."

* Another step backwards: "The United States is granting fewer visitor visas to people from around the world -- not just Muslims -- as President Donald Trump ratchets up his anti-immigration rhetoric."

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Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence

Antagonizing China, Trump flunks test on how numbers work

04/04/18 01:03PM

Donald Trump announced new tariffs, so China announced new tariffs. The White House took steps to escalate the conflict, and Beijing retaliated.

As the back and forth rattles investors, the American president shed some light on his perspective this morning in a pair of tweets.

"We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!

"When you're already $500 Billion DOWN, you can't lose!"

I've long wondered how Donald Trump managed to lose money running a casino. The answer is suddenly coming into focus.

Larry Kudlow, the new chair of the White House National Economic Council, was asked about his boss' online comments this morning, and seemed stumped. "I'm not sure what exactly he's referring to," Kudlow told reporters.

There's a lot of that going around.

While I'm sympathetic to the argument that the president's tweets tend to get a little too much attention, the economic and trade developments are of great international consequence, so Trump's willingness to explain his thinking on the subject really does matter on a substantive level.

With that in mind, let's unpack what we've learned this morning.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.4.18

04/04/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In state legislative special elections yesterday, Democrats held onto seats in the California state Assembly, the Rhode Island state Senate, and the Massachusetts state House.

* In Indiana's Republican Senate primary -- which I think can fairly be described as the most contentious primary in the country this year -- Rep. Todd Rokita (R) literally puts on a red "Make America Great Again" cap in his new television ad and vows to "proudly stand with" Donald Trump more than his primary rivals.

* The Texas Tribune  reported late yesterday that a federal judge "sided with a civil rights group that claimed Texas violated federal law by failing to register residents to vote when they updated their drivers' license information online."

* Already facing a tough re-election challenge, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) responded to the shooting at YouTube headquarters yesterday by suggesting the gun violence might have been connected to illegal immigration. (It wasn't.)

* In Arizona's congressional special election, Republicans are still taking steps to boost their candidate, Debbie Lesko, in a race that wasn't supposed to be competitive. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will travel to the district to headline a fundraiser for the GOP candidate two weeks from today. The election is April 24.

* In Missouri's closely watched U.S. Senate election, Josh Hawley (R) launched a new ad this week criticizing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) for opposing Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch's nomination. I have no idea if this is an issue voters actually care about.

* On a related note, McCaskill has launched her first television ad of his re-election bid, focusing on her work on behalf of veterans.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

As some Republicans call for his ouster, Pruitt laments 'toxic' DC

04/04/18 11:20AM

Yesterday, two Republican lawmakers -- Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) -- publicly called on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to resign. Given the number and the severity of the Oklahoman's scandals, the calls were hardly out of place.

The avalanche of damaging headlines about the embattled EPA chief has been staggering -- and difficult to keep up with. The controversy surrounding Pruitt's living arrangements at a lobbyist's home is probably the most serious, but there are also stories about Pruitt's misuse of public funds for expensive travel, his misuses of public funds for unnecessary security measures, the explored lease of a private jet, the suspicious raises for his top aides, the questions about the work those aides did for him, and on and on.

Now seems like an excellent time for Pruitt to explain himself. This, however, won't cut it.

Embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday that reports on his excessive spending and scrutiny over his housing are just fueled by critics trying to derail President Trump's agenda.

"There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it," he told the Examiner's "Washington Secrets" team. "And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes. … It's toxic here in that regard."

It's true that Pruitt is leading the EPA far differently than his predecessors. For example, previous EPA administrators supported the EPA and its mission, listened to EPA scientists, put a high priority in protecting clean air and clean water, and didn't take first-class flights to Morocco to promote the interests of their lobbyist landlords.

But even putting that aside, the scandal-plagued Republican doesn't seem to appreciate the seriousness of the allegations.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump scrambles to respond to a border crisis that doesn't exist

04/04/18 10:44AM

In 2005, with Republicans controlling all of the levers of federal power, George W. Bush was eager to privatize Social Security. To that end, the Republican president went to great lengths to sell the public on the idea that the Social Security system was facing a serious crisis, making his privatization scheme both sensible and necessary.

The program's progressive proponents responded with a simple, accurate, four-word retort: "There is no crisis." The point was to make clear that Social Security was fine; no radical changes were needed to save it; and the Bush/Cheney pitch was less about what the system required and more about a partisan and ideological crusade.

The pushback worked; Congress never even considered a Bush-style proposal on Social Security; and for a variety of reasons, Republicans lost control of Congress a year later.

All of this came to mind this week as Donald Trump's hysterical rhetoric about immigration and border security became progressively louder. The president seems desperate to convince the public that there's a crisis unfolding -- he insisted on Monday that "our country is being stolen" -- that requires drastic measures, including the deployment of National Guard troops.

"I think it is something we have to do," Trump said at a press conference yesterday.

But why is it, exactly, that the president has settled on this course all of a sudden? The New York Times' report on this included an important data point:

While the president couched his idea as an urgent response to an onslaught at the nation's southern border, the numbers do not point to a crisis. Last year, the number of illegal immigrants caught at the border was the lowest since 1971, said the United States Border Patrol.

Right. Illegal border crossings began to fall years ago -- the Obama administration increased border security, a fact the right prefers to ignore -- and have reached generational lows.

Or put another way, there is no crisis. Trump is scrambling to respond to an emergency that exists only in conservatives' imaginations.

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Image: National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster

On his way out the door, McMaster takes a parting shot at Russia

04/04/18 10:04AM

As H.R. McMaster, Donald Trump's second White House national security advisor, leaves the West Wing, he apparently has a few things he'd like to make clear before he's forced from his post. TPM noted this morning:

In his last public speech as national security adviser Tuesday night, H.R. McMaster offered harsh words for Russia and said that the U.S. and the rest of the international community have not been tough enough on Russia.

"We have failed to impose sufficient costs," he said in a speech at the Atlantic Council.

He warned that Russia "has used old and new forms of aggression to undermine our open societies." McMaster offered the examples of the use of a nerve agent to poison a former spy in Britain, allegedly carried out by Russia, and cyber attacks on the U.S.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's probably because the last public remarks McMaster made as White House national security advisor -- before Trump decided to replace him -- were quite similar. A few weeks ago, McMaster was largely unrestrained in his criticism of the Kremlin, lashing out at Russia's support for the Assad regime in Syria and Russia's suspected role in a poison-gas attack in the U.K.

It was a week later that Trump decided McMaster had to go.

What's more, as Rachel noted on the show two weeks ago, the last action McMaster took in his position before being fired was overseeing a National Security Council process that resulted in a recommendation to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from American soil.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

As Trump's infrastructure plans collapse, top aide exits White House

04/04/18 09:20AM

The latest "Infrastructure Week" at the White House isn't going well.

The White House's top infrastructure advisor is leaving the administration as President Donald Trump's plans to inject funding to repair the nation's roads and bridges will most likely have to wait until after the midterm elections.

The White House said DJ Gribbin, who formulated the Trump plan released in February, is leaving to pursue other opportunities.

It's hard to blame Gribbin for exiting. He worked for months to craft the president's infrastructure plan, which landed with a loud thud. It was designed to pass the Republican-led Congress, but the woeful blueprint faced swift resistance from lawmakers, and Trump admitted last week that the White House plan is effectively dead, at least for the rest of this year. (In a speech in Ohio, the president said, "Now is the time to rebuild our country." He soon after made clear that he didn't mean now.)

And at that point, there really wasn't much more for Gribbin to do.

Of course, there's a larger context to this. CBS's Stephen Colbert recently joked, "The busiest person at the White House is whoever has to update the office contact list."

Indeed, Gribbin's departure makes this a fine time to update the list of prominent Trump World departures:

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Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., Sept. 14, 2015. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Las VegasSun/Reuters)

After key progressive win, Wisconsin's Walker warns of 'blue wave'

04/04/18 08:40AM

Ordinarily, a state Supreme Court race wouldn't garner national attention, but yesterday's contest in Wisconsin was anything but a local affair.

Liberal judge Rebecca Dallet's runaway victory in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race cheered Democrats eager for more evidence their party is ready for a winning fall in midterm elections.

And Dallet's hammering of conservative judge Michael Screnock on Tuesday prodded Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who had endorsed Screnock, to warn his fellow Republicans that more losses could be coming.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, her victory marked "the first time in 23 years that a liberal candidate who wasn't an incumbent won a seat on the high court." What's more, it wasn't close: as of the latest tally, Dallet appears to have won this race by nearly 12 points.

Scott Walker, who's running for a third term this year, pointed to the results as proof that a "blue wave" may be coming to Wisconsin.

He's right to worry. In January, a Democratic candidate won a state Senate special election in a district that Donald Trump won by 17 points, defeating a Republican who enjoyed considerable support from the party and its far-right allies.

By most metrics, however, yesterday's election matters even more.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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